There are times when a government agency is so out of touch, or so negligent in its duties, or so in the pocket of those it regulates — or all of the above — that the public must rise up and demand that the agency live up to the fundamental responsibility it was created to address. Not ask — demand.
This is one of those times.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is making a mockery of both components of its name, abandoning not only public health but also our area’s river environment with a proposed ruling in favor of the long-polluting utility known as Carolina Water Service.
A Free Times article by Eva Moore earlier this year told the almost unbelievable story of how local and state government entities have failed for two decades to stop Carolina Water Service from routinely discharging contaminated wastewater into the Lower Saluda River near the I-20 bridge.
Moving the story from unbelievable to unconscionable is the fact that the problem could have been solved long ago by Carolina Water Service simply sending its wastewater discharge into a sewer line that is only 100 yards from its plant, rather than dumping it into the Saluda River.
In turn, moving the regulatory authorities involved in the story from unconscionable to unconscious is the fact they did nothing to enforce the law for over two decades, allowing Carolina Water Service to continue polluting the river in spite of having been required to connect to the sewer system.
In turn again, moving the current DHEC regulators from unconscious to brain-dead, is the fact that not only is DHEC still failing to enforce the law and its own past rulings, but has instead proposed a new — and more lenient — operating permit for Carolina Water Service. In addition to enabling rather than preventing water pollution at the state level, the new permit would also undercut the federal lawsuit filed by the Congaree Riverkeeper organization to force compliance with existing law.
As Sammy Fretwell reported in The State, the new permit “says Carolina Water can avoid hooking into the system by late 2016 if it gives a good reason. It also eases the limits on the release of substances that suck oxygen from the water.”
And what might a “good reason” be for allowing the illegal and continued pollution of our rivers, and with greater amounts of “substances that suck oxygen from the water”?
In case you’re wondering, those substances include discharges from Carolina Water that fail tests for such pleasantries as “fecal coliform, floating solids and visible foam.” And let’s not forget Carolina Water’s failed tests for “biochemical oxygen demand,” which indicates oxygen depletion in the water that threatens both the fish in the river and the animals that drink from it. As well as the humans who swim, wade, canoe and kayak in it.
That we would allow this nonsense to continue, allow this renegade, rinky-dink utility to do this kind of damage to our rivers, and allow DHEC to turn a blind eye, a deaf ear and a dumb proposal to an easily addressed public health and environmental issue is a public disgrace.
The situation should not be acceptable to us as citizens, nor should it be acceptable to our local elected officials — especially those who are working to promote a new awareness of and interest in our area’s history as a river city and spending tens of millions on riverwalks and other projects to capitalize on it. Those investments need to be protected, and those who undermine them need to be fought.
Where are you Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin? Cayce Mayor Elise Partin? West Columbia Mayor Joe Owens? The same goes for the members of those city councils, along with Richland and Lexington County Councils, every member of the Richland and Lexington legislative delegations, every neighborhood council on both sides of the river, every environmental and public health group in the state, and every resident of our area who cares about both good water and good government.
The public hearing on DHEC’s proposed sellout, er permit, for Carolina Water Service is set for 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 25 at the DHEC Auditorium, 2600 Bull St.
Show up. Speak out. Stop them.
Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics.
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